Saturday, September 10, 2011

Obama's Suicide by Compromise

Of all the historical analogies that Conservatives call up, there's none they love so much as the story of Neville Chamberlain selling out Europe to Hitler. To hear conservatives tell it, it's always 1939, their enemy of the week is Hitler, and the Democrats are signing the Munich Accords. It's pretty obvious who plays Churchill. I hate the way they play this song over and over like Lynyrd Skynyrd wrapping up every set with "Free Bird." But I'm afraid that Obama might well go down in history as the person who irrationally tried to negotiate with extremist lunatics, except not overseas, but here at home. *

It's hard to overstate the degree to which Obama has squandered the enormous faith people had in him when he was elected.** The trouble started when he didn't ask for a big enough stimulus package, though many progressive economists warned him he'd need a bigger one. Then during the health-care fight he began by negotiating from the compromise "public option" position, then sacrificed that on the altar of conciliation to Republicans and "centrist" Dems like Nelson and Lieberman. And when it was all over Tom Dasche revealed that Obama had assured the health-care lobby he never intended to pass a public option in the first place.

But as bad as all that was, nothing is going to cost him like the way that he inexplicably pivoted to deficit reduction in the summer when Republicans decided to hold the entire American economy hostage during the debt-ceiling negotiations. Not only did he negotiate with these political terrorists, he supported their central assertion that the thing the government should be focusing on at that time was not unemployment near 10 percent (closer to 17 if you count realistically), but getting rid of the deficit right now.

Of course he made a bad judgement call. He decided to believe that the economy was going to get better, so now was the time to cut the deficit. But even if that's what he believed, against all evidence, he was wrong to negotiate with the Republicans like he did. I wouldn't have agreed, but I'd respect him, if he'd said: "I want to negotiate to cut the deficit, and I will. But I'm not going to negotiate until the Republicans stop threatening to bankrupt our country."

With his jobs speech, of course, he's taking something of a stand, at least rhetorically. But even now he points out that many of the proposals in the Jobs Jobs Jobs Jobs America Jobs Jobs Act, or whatever it's called, were originally proposed by Republicans. If he wasn't an adult, and the President of my country, I'd get a tear in my eye at the innocence of such a statement. Does he really believe that will keep them from opposing them? The public mandate was invented by Republicans, and now there are Republican State Attorneys across the country trying to get it invalidated as unconstitutional.

It's too late now for him to do much anyway, but even if it wasn't there is absolutely no reason he won't walk into negotiations over this bill by preemptively throwing out anything the Republicans won't like only to have them scream that every conservative idea he has left for them is Kenyan Socialist extremism.

But you don't understand! scream his defenders. He's just a president, he can't pass laws. He can't make the legislature do anything they don't want to do. They will give a million reasons why he never could have gotten any of that stuff anyway (even when he had a massive majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate). They'll say at least if he looks reasonable people will realize how extreme the Republicans are. Never mind that it's not working. Never mind that even the American people want him to stand up more. Was this the message they were planning on running on? "No, we're not fighting for anything you believe in, but it doesn't matter, because we couldn't get it anyway." In 2008 it was, "Yes we can!" In 2012 it's apparently, "Sorry, we can't, but it's not our fault!"

In other words, just like Neville Chamberlain kept trying to negotiate with Hitler far past the point when it was clear that he was a maniac who would accept no outcome short of taking over the world, Obama refuses to see that the Republicans today are a death cult who care nothing about the good of the country and only want to cement their own power and further enrich their friends.

Maybe Obama will still pull it out. Maybe by some miracle the economy will turn around in the next six months or so (after that it will be too late). Probably his best hope is that the Republicans will nominate someone insane enough that he alienates mainstream America, though if the economy's really bad and Obama sufficiently turns off the people that believed in him, even that might not be enough.

Then, when historians chronicle the decline of this country, Obama will be remembered as America's Neville Chamberlain after all.

* I guess here is where I'm supposed to point out that I'm not breaking Godwin's Law and actually saying the modern conservative movement is like the Nazis. So here goes: the modern conservative movement is not like the Nazis. But I'm going to bend the law a bit by saying that in many ways the difference is in the degree of the things they're doing, not the kind of things. Many contemporary conservatives are playing a milder version of the same reactionary nationalistic militaristic game, all the way down to irrational conspiracy theories about dangers posed by a religious minority.

** Many progressives will point out that I'm being very naive here, and that Obama was never the progressive many people thought he was. And they're absolutely right. And I'm doubly to blame because I supported him very early on (I donated to his campaign back when it was far from certain he'd beat Hillary) knowing perfectly well he wasn't really all that progressive. I did that partially because I was trying to be a "realist" and partially because I had a picture of him being sort of a Clinton-style moderate; I'm old enough to remember that things under Clinton weren't all that bad. Not that it made any difference who I supported anyway, but I'll say it now: I was wrong. It's not a mistake I'll make again.